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Hearing of nominee Commissioner Philippe Busquin

During a turbulent confirmation hearing at the European Parliament, Commissioner-designate for Research, Philippe Busquin said the successful execution of the Fifth Framework Programme would be his main task if he becomes Commissioner. Furthermore, laying the groundwork for th...
During a turbulent confirmation hearing at the European Parliament, Commissioner-designate for Research, Philippe Busquin said the successful execution of the Fifth Framework Programme would be his main task if he becomes Commissioner. Furthermore, laying the groundwork for the Sixth RTD Framework Programme would begin next year.

However the meeting, held on 1 September in Brussels, was dominated by MEPs' concerns over the Agusta-Dassault case, in which officials of the French-speaking Belgian Socialist Party (Partie socialiste - PS), of which Mr Busquin has been president since 1992, were found guilty by the Belgian courts in 1998 of using illegal methods to finance the party (along with counterparts from the Flemish Socialist Party). In his replies, Mr Busquin repeatedly stressed that the events referred to took place before he was elected party leader, emphasising that he had never been accused of any illegal transactions or fraudulent behaviour.

He responded to Belgian, Dutch and German MEPs who questioned Mr Busquin's proficiency in Dutch, an official language of Belgium, by promising to improve his command of it.

In his opening speech Mr Busquin promised to ensure the 15 billion euro devoted to FP5 is properly spent. He stressed his intention to 'create a single area for research' to make the sector more attractive to the young people Europe needs if it is to compete with the United States and Japan. He said his priorities would be research which supported enlargement, employment and growth. 'The main reason for scientific research, apart from quenching the human thirst for knowledge, is to use scientific knowledge to solve the problems of society' he said.

The European Commission's Joint Research Centre is in an excellent position to put this into practice, he said, and pointed to the JRC's research efforts during the dioxin crisis, and regarding genetically modified foods as good examples of how this can be achieved. He pledged to improve the JRC's relationship with the European Parliament by acting as an intermediary if necessary.

The problem of financing the decommissioning of nuclear facilities, including the JRC's own plant in Ispra, was raised by Eryl McNally. Mr Busquin made assurances that money would not be diverted from research funding, although he stressed the need to maintain an open mind when distributing funds.

The gender question was also addressed, and Mr Busquin pledged himself to the outgoing Commission's communication on 'Women and Science' that called for a 40% threshold of women in the consultative and evaluative panels of FP5.

Later, Mr Busquin sought to stress that he did not wish to differentiate between pure and market-driven research. He said: 'I've never given a view on the distinction between applied and pure research. We should not create an artificial dichotomy between them. There are a number of programmes which show the value of pure research.'

Regarding the current Framework Programme, Mr Busquin said he had no plans for imminent changes. He said: 'It is important to stick to decisions already made until they can be properly assessed. If changes need to be made, it would be appropriate to wait until the mid-term review.'

Agreeing with Paul Rübig that the position of small and medium-sized enterprises in research projects needs to be improved, Mr Busquin pointed to CORDIS as an excellent means of encouraging this. He said: 'The number of SMEs involved in the Fifth Framework Programme is growing, and the CORDIS project has proved to be effective in disseminating information to SMEs.' He went on to say: 'Ninety per cent of companies are SMEs but they receive only ten per cent of research funding,' and suggested that this figure could be improved by encouraging smaller enterprises to collaborate with larger companies on research projects.

He assured MEPs that procedures were already in place to simplify the application processes which SMEs complained was overcomplicated. When asked by Willy De Clerq which SMEs would benefit in particular from EU research programmes, Mr Busquin indicated that the fields of telematics and informatics would be priorities.

Source: European Parliament

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